Detroit Tigers Player-by-Player First Half Reviews: Starting Pitchers

With their 12-9 win on Monday afternoon over the Baltimore Orioles, perhaps the second worst team of the decade (number one being the 2003 Detroit Tigers), the Tigers hold a record of 44-37 over the first 81 games of the year, meaning that we have hit the actual halfway mark in the Tigers season. This record is good for first place in the AL Central, 1/2 game over the Minnesota Twins.

As the Tigers have finished the first half of their season, I will be grading the first half performances of every player. This post is dedicated to the starting rotation. The next will cover relievers and the last will cover position players.

Note: I will not be using a number of advanced statistical performance measures during these reviews. For instance, I will not use the Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP) statistic because, in my opinion, the assumption that hits should be treated as irrelevant is not a good one to use for pitchers, as a large proportion of Tigers pitchers give up hits at a higher clip because they are power pitchers who tend to locate their off-speed pitches poorly. As a result, they give up a fair number of hits and runs, but are able to lower their FIP by striking out a bunch of batters.

Justin Verlander
Grade: B+

Verlander has without a doubt been the best of the Tigers starters, producing a 10-5 record in 17 starts with a 3.85 ERA. He has 103 strikeouts and 37 walks in 110 innings pitched. He has generally been able to go deep into games, pitching 7+ innings 10 times and pitching fewer than 6 only five times. The problem with Verlander, as usual, was an atrocious start to the season. Verlander's first four appearances included a 1-1 record with a 6.95 ERA, a major problem as the bullpen was strained early on and having to regularly bail out the ace didn't help matters.

Jeremy Bonderman
Grade: C+

Bonderman has been highly inconsistent during the first half. This is not a terrible thing. After all, he has 8 quality starts in 15 starts, which makes him the only Tigers starter other than Verlander to produce a quality start over 50% of the time. The problem with Bonderman is that when he's not having a good start, he is often very, very bad. Even so, considering the rather low expectations that most Tigers fans had for Bonderman going into this season, considering his injury history, a 4-6 record with a 4.81 ERA over 15 starts isn't bad.

Max Scherzer
Grade: B-

Max Scherzer got off to a decent start, going 1-1 with a 2.63 ERA in his first four starts (he gave up quite a few preventable unearned runs that made his start look better on paper than it really was). Then, he had a string of four incredibly awful starts from April 28 through May 14 in which he went 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA, which led the Tigers to send him to the Minors for a couple weeks. Since coming back, however, he's been excellent, going 4-2 in 7 starts with a 2.62 ERA with 11.3 K/9, 3.29 K/BB, and a 1.12 WHIP (Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched). This adds up to a 5-6 record over 15 starts with a 4.88 ERA. Outside of his atrocious stretch from late April to mid-May, Scherzer has been at least as good as Verlander on a daily basis. However, when coming up with a grade for him, a string of starts bad enough to get sent down to the Minors has to be taken into account. That said, his future looks very bright for this season and beyond.

Rick Porcello
Grade: D-

If Jeremy Bonderman in the most inconsistent pitcher in our rotation, then Porcello is our most consistent pitcher. Unfortunately, he was consistently bad. In his 13 starts, he went 4-7 with a 6.14 ERA. He had a decent set of games in May, procuring 3 quality starts in 5 games, but has otherwise been simply bad. Really really bad. As in, Michigan's linebacking corp did better this past season than Rick Porcello is doing this year. Porcello's specific problems are major issues. He's had trouble controlling his pitches and his breaking balls have not bite to them. And he simply seemed to lack confidence on the mound. Porcello was sent down to Toledo in June and will hopefully get back to form and return to the rotation relatively soon, just as Scherzer did earlier this season. After all, his stuff is still excellent when he's on and he's got a lot of potential.

Armando Galarraga
Grade: A+

On May 16, Galarraga was called up to pitch against Boston to take over Max Scherzer's spot in the rotation while he worked in the Minors. He stayed in the Majors after Scherzer came back, as the Tigers chose to release Dontrelle Willis and keep Galarraga in the rotation. A couple days later, Galarraga pitched what should have been a perfect game, retiring 28 batters in a row, despite giving up a nominal infield single to Jason Donald because of because of perhaps the worst call in MLB history:

Since the near-perfect game, Galarraga has not been very impressive, producing only 1 quality start, which came against the Pirates, in five outings (of course, as I write this, he's pitching very well against Baltimore). In those five starts, he has gone 1-1 with a 6.00 ERA and a worrying 0.60 K/BB ratio. Since these grades are supposed to cover the entire first half, Galarraga doesn't really deserve an A+. However, he does deserve a perfect game, so I figured I'd give him a compensation prize. It isn't much, but it's more than what Bud Selig gave him.

Dontrelle Willis
Grade: C-

Willis did not play well in his time at Detroit. Before this year, he played in a few games, showed no control, and spent most of his time on the DL for anxiety disorder. This year, he started in 8 games and produced a 1-2 record with a 4.98 ERA. He actually pitched fairly well in April, but fell apart in May. The biggest problem with Willis was that he never went deep into games. His longest outing lasted 6 innings, a feat he accomplished only 3 times, none of which happened outside of April. As such, when Scherzer was ready to come back from Toledo, the Tigers chose to release Willis and let Galarraga in the rotation. Willis was picked up by Arizona and released after a performing poorly in both the rotation and a relief appearance.

Andrew Oliver
Grade: C

Oliver was called up to replace Porcello while Porcello works out his issues in Toledo. He has gone 0-2 in his 3 starts with a 5.93 ERA. However, he also has 11 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings, as well as 2 quality starts. And, when you look at his games individually, the overall stats do not seem as bad. Oliver had a solid first outing against the Mets, in which he gave up 2 runs in 6 innings and got the loss. In his second outing, he went up against the Twins and was the recipient of poor defense on the way to his second loss (although he was the cause of some of it). After his first two games, he had a 3.00 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 12 innings. His latest outing, which I attended, against the Orioles was terrible. He gave up 6 runs (5 earned) in 1 2/3 innings and his pitches had little movement and were not well located. Still, he's been decent and has done well enough for a temporary call-up from the Minors.

Grade: C

The rotation has not been good this year. While Verlander and Scherzer project well for the second half, definite questions remain for the bottom of the rotation. If this season is going to be a success, then Porcello needs to get it together and Bonderman and Galarraga need to be more consistent, or the Tigers will need to make an acquisition before the deadline. The problem is that the Tigers do not have a ton of prospects available to trade and there are also holes at catcher, the middle infield, and, thanks to the Zumaya injury, the bullpen that demand Dombrowski's attention and he cannot solve all of them.

4 Response to "Detroit Tigers Player-by-Player First Half Reviews: Starting Pitchers"

  1. Dark Blue says:

    Seth I have to disagree with you a little bit. I think Bondo has been better than a C+, for a couple of reasons. First 8 quality starts from a guy we weren't sure was ever going to pitch again is pretty good. His slider has been a dynamite pitch and he has learned to control that 2 seam fastball pretty well. I realize he needs a 3rd pitch, but all this said I think I would've given him a B- or a B. And Galarraga as an A+? I understand the homerism, I really do, but AG has probably been a B at best, perfect game or no perfect game.

    Seth9 says:

    Bonderman got a C+ because the grades were based on how well they did in a vacuum. Bonderman is over-performing my expectations for him, but in a vacuum, he's an average bottom-of-the-rotation starter, which isn't terrible, but isn't good.

    I acknowledged that Galarraga did not deserve an A+, saying "Since these grades are supposed to cover the entire first half, Galarraga doesn't really deserve an A+. However, he does deserve a perfect game, so I figured I'd give him a compensation prize. It isn't much, but it's more than what Bud Selig gave him."

    Dark Blue says:

    Okay Seth, I missed the "compensation prize" part. BTW, nice job, I think you have a future in sports writing. Can I post this at We Own the Central?

    Seth9 says:

    Go ahead. I'm flattered.

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